Ini Billie, Uyo
Menstruating women and mothers of twins in some Akwa Ibom communities have been denied access to drinking water over beliefs that the water would dry up.
The Coordinator, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WaSH)-Gender Project Team and Director, Directorate of International Programmes, University of Uyo, Prof. Emmanuel Akpabio, revealed this on Friday in Uyo during a report of the team’s research in three local government areas.
According to Prof. Akpabio, the myths have been perpetrated over generations unchallenged in the affected communities due to the shortage of drinking water and fear that the sole source of drinking water in the areas would be contaminated.
Akpabio noted that the lack of access to WaSH constrains women, girls and other vulnerable individuals from engaging in economic and educational activities and called for strong public intervention in providing water for such communities, adding that it would also tackle the problem of open defecation.
He said: “For Mbiabet Ikot Udo, there is only a single source of drinking but stagnant water (Idim Affia) sustained through under surface outflow with brown colouration. This serves an estimated population of 1,200 and six more villages (over 6000 people) in the dry season when other available sources would have dried off. This water source is also obtained for domestic and other needs.
“Mothers of twin children are restricted from accessing this water. We were told the stream will spew all manners of impurities and strange substances and gradually dries off anytime it is accessed by a mother of twins, and only comes back to normalcy once sacrifices/rituals are performed by the community.
“Women in their menstrual cycles are also traditionally restricted from having access to the stream and the consequence for violation is prolonged blood discharge. The victims can only get water through their spouses, children, paid services or voluntary support from members of the community. Where they cannot get any support, they will stay without water for that period,” he said.
Akpabio explained that the practice fuels gender-based discrimination in access to WaSH services and subjected women to psychosocial and other forms of gender-based violence, which would in turn affect their health.
He stated that the discrimination was pronounced in ecologically fragile and difficult areas where WaSH infrastructures for public use are severely limited, adding that intersectional factors like biology, disability, socio-cultural norms and economic circumstances also complicate the problem.
“Our attention was drawn to the challenges of menstrual hygiene management (MHM) in the study communities. There have been so many misconceptions, myths and gaps in knowledge and awareness around MHM for women and girls.
“When women and girls are denied access to water on account of menstruation, when they have to walk long distances to access WaSH facilities, or when acute water scarcity forces reliance on available but usually of degradable quality sources, their right to decent, hygienic and sanitary living is severely compromised, creating avenues for possibilities for diseases outbreaks.
“The stress of having to contend with stigmatization and extra physical and mental efforts to secure sanitary living translates to serious psychosocial violence.
“MHM needs adequate access to water, soap, sanitary towels and safe space for using water and changing menstrual towels. Majority of women and girls in our rural areas neither afford nor have access to these basic necessities.
“When women in their menstrual cycles are denied access to water and safe spaces for menstrual hygiene management as in Mbiabet Ikot Udo, they are directly and indirectly subject to psychosocial and other forms of gender-based violence, as well as affect their health, as they struggle to make up for such deprivation. Their human dignity is severely violated, and they lack the voice and capacity to surmount such challenges,” he noted.